COVID-19 And The Wild Sheep Decline: An Interesting Parallel

The impact of COVID-19, the coronavirus on humanity, is nothing short of historic.

While the death toll has not and hopefully will not reach the levels of the Spanish flu of 1918, the potential is there, and the grip it has on government, commerce, and private citizens is unprecedented.

That’s why I can’t help but make parallels between COVID-19 and the near-catastrophic decline of wild sheep of the 1800s.

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The author photographed this bighorn at 12,000 feet in an area where grazing is restricted but these sheep don’t stay here all the time. Moving into grazing areas is a highly dangerous proposition. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

When Lewis & Clark set out on their epic expedition, there were around two million wild sheep in North America. By 1900, there were fewer than 25,000 according to some estimates.

And while it would be easy to blame it on unregulated hunting and market killing which no doubt had some impact, by far the biggest killer was pneumonia.

Coming from domestic sheep, it hit wild herds as they co-mingled in the valleys and mountains during the westward expansion of European settlement. Millions of sheep died, and if it were not for conscientious hunters and fish and game departments around the nation, there would likely be no wild sheep left today.

Listen to Chester Moore discuss this issue and give some inspiration on wild sheep conservation at his new podcast “Higher Calling”.

It’s a story few have heard outside of wild sheep hunting and biologist circles, but now is the time.

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Notice the mountains in the background of this sheep lot. Have wild sheep mingled with herds in this area? (Public Domain Photo)

The decline of wild sheep is second only to the government-sponsored bison slaughter in the depth of impact on a species in North America.

Humans are now quarantined, and in effect, bighorns are in many areas.

In 2016, Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) officials killed six bighorns because backpackers saw them co-mingling with domestic sheep. The bacterial form of pneumonia can be brought back to the herd and transmitted to lambs.

“When you have the lambs dying, it’s hard to build a population,” said CPW spokesman Joe Lewandowski in The Durango Herald.

“As wildlife managers, we look at populations, not individual animals. In this case, we know an individual animal could spread the disease to the larger herd, and then we have a bigger problem.”

This is not an uncommon practice in wild sheep management.

While translocations, strict herd management, and grazing restrictions have brought sheep numbers continent-wide into the 150-175,000 range, pneumonia is still the most significant threat. Still, there are no specials on Animal Planet or Nat Geo Wild or any other mainstream media outlets. This pandemic has been going on with wild sheep for 150 years, and only the hunting community, fish and game agencies, and biologists seem to care.

The focus should now be on saving people and the economies of the world, but there is space to teach a valuable lesson on wildlife conservation. There has never been a point in recent history where this particular story of wild sheep has such a great chance to touch the hearts of millions of wildlife enthusiasts.

During the downtime from work and school, people are looking for things to occupy their time and inspired, informative media on some of the beautiful animals in North America can help fill some of that void.

That is what this post is all about. I’m doing my best to let people know that when the dust settles on COVID-19 (and me and my family are praying daily that will happen soon), sheep will still have their own pandemic to face.

Concerned conservationists have done a remarkable job building herds throughout North America, but these conservationists are aging quickly, and new blood needs to step up to the plate.

Maybe something good that can come out of this tragedy is that some young person is motivated to get involved with sheep conservation. Perhaps being isolated, afraid of mingling with others and under the potential threat of death itself because of an unseen force will inspire action.

Sheep, of course, have no way to conceptualize these things, but they don’t need to when caring conservationists are in place in fish and game departments, conservation groups, and halls of the legislature.

COVID-19 may be momentarily stealing our freedoms, but it can’t rob the wild and enduring spirit of those thoughtful enough to make a bold stand for bighorns and their thinhorn cousins.

That force is as majestic as the sheep themselves.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

COVID-19, Wild Sheep & Chester’s New Podcast

Join The Wildlife Journalist® and award-wining conservationist Chester Moore as he discusses the connection between what we are experiencing in this pandemic setting and what nearly wiped out wild sheep in America in the 1800s.

Also hear a a heartfelt story of how Chester and his Dad bonded over hunting scrapbooks and how it pointed him toward a higher calling of wildlife conservation.

Listen below.

Wildlife Journalist Honored For Bighorn Writings

Wildlife journalist Chester Moore has been honored for his writings on bighorn sheep hunting and conservation.

He won first place for the “Outdoors Column ” category in the Texas Outdoor Writers Association Excellence in Craft awards for his bighorn sheep story entitled “New Life For New Mexico’s Bighorns”. The story appeared at Higher Calling and in the Wild Sheep Foundation’s Mountain Minutes newsletter.

Moore at home with his two “Excellence In Craft” awards.

He also received a second place award in the “Feature” category for his “Desert Homecoming” story in Sports Afield that detailed the comeback of Texas’ desert bighorn herd. 

“I’ve been doing a lot on wild sheep, trying to get the word out on their conservation needs and the absolute triumph that hunter-based conservation has been for all wild sheep in North America. It’s a real honor to be recognized for these writings.”

Moore is a staunch supporter of sheep and mountain wildlife conservation is a member of The Wild Sheep Foundation, Texas Bighorn Society and Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society as well as the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance. He is also a member of The Houston Safari Club Foundation and National Wild Turkey Federation.

Additionally, in January at the National Wild Turkey Federation-Texas state convention Moore was awarded the “Advocatus Magni” award for his work as an advocate for wild turkey conservation.

Chester won the “Advocatus Magni Award” from the National Wild Turkey Federation for his work as an advocate of wild turkey conservation.

“This is such a tremendous honor,” Moore said.

“Wild turkeys are a passion of mine and I believe if we get turkey conservation right all forest species will benefit. Even wild sheep benefit from certain turkey enhancement projects like controlled burning. To get an award like this is truly inspiring.”

Deep Woods Dangers Pt. 2: Murder Mountain

“You need to watch Murder Mountain.

Spoken somberly from a National Forest Service game warden, those words got my attention.

As we conversed at the National Wild Turkey Federation convention in Nashville, I asked if he ever worked Humboldt County, Ca.

And as I related a personal experience from there nearly 20 years ago, he recommended the six-part Netflix series.

“There are missing people, murders and drug trafficking. You were lucky to get out,” he said.

In 2002 me and my father set out on a mission to explore the Pacific Northwest after my great white shark cage dive adventure in San Francisco. I had heard a bit about pot growers in the area but nothing that seemed worse than where I live in East Texas.

Boy was I wrong.

One night on our trip we set out to try out our new night vision goggles and to record night wildlife sounds in the stunningly beautiful mountains in the Trinity Alps. When I tell you this was in the middle of nowhere it might be hard for you to imagine just how far unless you’ve been to that part of the world.

We pulled up a few minutes after the sunset and planned to stay through the night.

As Dad started taking out the equipment, I walked over to a good viewing spot to look down into the valley with the night vision goggles.

The moon was full so visibility was high.

If anything came into the clearings below we should get a glimpse, I thought.

Then I saw it.

A beam of light shot up toward our position.

“Dad, did you see that?” I asked as I pulled off the goggles.

“What?”

“A light beam just shone toward us,” I replied.

“I didn’t see it, he said.”

Neither did I now that the goggles were off.

I put them back on, and a few seconds later I could see the light beam moving up toward us. I took them off and couldn’t see the light.

Immediately I knew that someone was below, traveling with night vision and using an infrared light only visible with night vision technology.

The drug activity warning hit me and I readied to retreat. I knew whoever was down there was not listening for bugling elk like we were.

Just as I shouted for Dad to throw the gear back in the SUV, headlights of a vehicle came on about 3/4 mile ahead of us.

We were on one side of a logging road that cut across a mountain.

This was on the other side of the mountain road. Someone had been signaled.

We shoved our gear into the SUV and sped out of there, but by the time we hit the road so did the truck from the other side. They were headed straight for us. At one point I was going 80 down the mountain, and they were just a few feet away—literally an arm’s length from hitting us.

I knew that was their goal.

After what seemed like forever we got to the base of the mountain on one of the main roads going toward Willow Creek. As soon as we turned back toward that little city, they turned back up the mountain.

The author finds himself in remote locations frequently. And while they are often beautiful like this aspen-covered hill in the Rockies, danger often lurks. The biggest game is usually in the most remote locations and sometimes so are the most evil people.

Had I not went with my gut feeling, we might have been killed or at least gotten into a very tense situation.

Well, being chased down a mountain is pretty tense, isn’t it?

Over the years I have learned a few things about staying safe in the woods from people with bad intentions. Please share this with others.

It could save their lives.

#Bad Vibes: If you feel bad about going into an area don’t go. I am a follower of Christ. I believe sometimes this is the Holy Spirit telling me to stay away. You may not believe that, but just call it a “gut feeling” and go with it.

#Never Alone: As much as I love to be in the distant forest alone with my camera—don’t you do it. Always bring someone along. Preferably someone who is experienced in the woods. You are far more likely to get hurt by evil people if you are alone.

#Pack Heat: If it’s legal where you are then use your Second Amendment right, and carry a firearm. Make sure you are trained in its use and be prepared to do what is necessary.

Better you defend yourself against a maniac than become a statistic. Also, carry a large knife with you. In close quarters it could save your life.

#Study the Area: The Internet is a great tool for studying areas. If you find out an area is a high drug trafficker area for, for example; avoid it like the plague.

Stay away!

I have several areas I no longer frequent because of this issue.

#Stay Calm: If you do encounter people in the woods who seem uneasy or a bit shifty, stay calm. Getting angry or showing fear is a good way to trigger someone who has violent tendencies.

#Travel Plan: Leave your spouse or close friends a travel plan and let them know the points you plan to explore. Give them a time frame. Let them know to call for help if you have not returned by a certain time or day.

#Strategic Parking: Always park your vehicle facing out of the area as you check out. In a tight spot, you don’t want to have to back up and turn around during a retreat. Also park in a spot in a clear area that you can see from a distance. If someone is waiting on you or has moved into the spot, it will give you a chance to assess the situation and prepare.

#Don’t Try to be a Hero: If you see strangers poaching in the woods at night for example, don’t be a hero and try to stop them. They are armed and probably will use their weapons on you if you try to stop them. Call and report activity to local game wardens and get out as quickly as possible.

#Buy And Carry A Beacon: I carry a Spot-X beacon that will alert all rescue personnel at the touch of a button. Don’t rely just on a cell phone. Get a beacon of some kind too.

#Talk To Locals: Not all information is on social media. Talking to locals in a gun shop or sporting goods store can give you good intel on the local region.

Seeking wildlife in the mountains and forest is one of the most exciting things a person can do, but it has its share of dangers. Keep these tips in mind and you should be available to avoid any serious trouble.

After studying a map, I was probably 10 miles or so from the actual Murder Mountain documented in the series but deep in a county with many missing people, murders and mayhem.

Do you have any harrowing stories of running into dangerous people in the woods? If so, email me at chester@chestermoore.com.

To read pt. 1 of the Deep Woods Dangers series click here.

Chester Moore, Jr.